DETROIT – Stan Van Gundy has called out his team after several games this season for its shoddy defensive disposition.
The message hasn’t gotten through. The Detroit Pistons continue to lack defensive intensity on many nights. They’re often too easy to score against, like in Monday’s 118-103 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans at Little Caesars Arena.
This performance was more difficult to accept coming on the heels of Sunday’s loss to the lowly Atlanta Hawks.
“We were terrible defensively,” Van Gundy said. “I didn’t think we really did anything very well.”
The Pistons (27-29) have lost three in a row, after winning five consecutive games following the trade that landed them Blake Griffin.
Griffin led his team with 22 points and Andre Drummond added 13 points and 21 rebounds, but the Pelicans’ big men dominated this one. Anthony Davis scored 38 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Nikola Mirotic contributed 21 points and 12 rebounds.
“We gave (David) some rolls to the basket, but he hit a lot of jump shots over the top, which he’s capable of doing,” Van Gundy said. “There’s at least a half-dozen of those shots, where if I put that up on film for our guys I’d say that’s really good defense, and he makes them. But, when you’re not back in transition, when you won’t put your body between the ball and the basket … we weren’t physical enough or tough enough. It was a disappointing night coming off a bad defensive night (Sunday). I would’ve expected a little bit more commitment.”
Players couldn’t disagree.
“Including myself, we allowed our offensive play, our frustration of missing shots to really get away from our defense,” Drummond said. “That’s kind of what we anchor ourselves on. If we don’t get stops on defense, obviously it’s not going to translate to offense.
“Those effort plays that we haven’t been making, loose balls on the ground and nobody’s been diving for them. It’s just a toughness thing. We’ve got to get back to playing tough and just playing winning basketball really is what it is.”
The Pistons continue to search for ways to get the ball to Griffin closer to the rim, so that he has no more than one or two dribbles to get to the basket. He’s been taking too many shots from distance, and that’s not his game. He missed his first five 3-point attempts and finished 1 for 6. He is 11 for 44 from beyond the arc in seven games with Detroit.
Griffin said that for the first time he’s been here, he though the team looked tired.
“I think at the end of the day we just got to play harder while we’re in this stretch of figuring everything out,” Griffin said. “Be the first to loose balls, be the first to get back, transition defensively.”
Van Gundy said his brother, Jeff, a former NBA coach and current TV analyst, often tells him you win when you deserve to win.
“We haven’t deserved to win the last couple of games,” Van Gundy said. “When you don’t bring the defense and the fight … There were four, five, six loose balls when nobody goes on the floor. There are three or four times we don’t get back and people are behind us defensively. Times when we’re not pulling in on the roll man. Those things are inexcusable when you’re trying to win and it’s really hard for me because I’m not one of those guys where (he’s saying) I’m doing a great job and they are not playing well. I have a hard time watching that as a coach that we haven’t gotten our guys playing better and harder defensively than we have the last couple of games.”
It’s not like they haven’t shown that defensive aptitude. A week earlier, they held a decent Portland team to 91 points. But that’s the only time in the past 10 games an opponent hasn’t hit the 100 mark against them.
“I thought we went through a stretch where we fought really hard and that’s what’s hard for me to understand,” Van Gundy said. “Is it fatigue? I don’t know. And it’s a lot of new guys, I get it. … It’s not that we’re not capable and it’s not that we have a bunch of guys that just don’t ever play hard. We just haven’t gotten it done the last two games. This isn’t a season long thing. It can be turned around, but we have to do it.”
Drummond said they need to “wake up.”
“I think for me, being the leader, I need to do a better job of keeping everybody positive,” Drummond said. “If we do have those offensive slumps, or we do something wrong defensively, we got to keep our positive energy up to keep everybody going.”